California/Beijing: China hit back on Wednesday after U.S. President Joe Biden called President Xi Jinping a “dictator,” saying the remarks were absurd and a provocation, amid an unexpected clash between the two sides immediately after efforts to ease tensions quarrel.
Biden’s comments came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Beijing to stabilize bilateral ties, which China says are at their lowest point since diplomatic relations were established.
Biden said at a fundraiser in California that Xi was “embarrassed” when a suspected Chinese spy balloon was blown off course in U.S. airspace earlier this year. When Blinken said Monday that “chapters” should be closed, he made a personal comment about the Chinese leader. “When I shot down the balloon that had two boxcars full of spy equipment, Xi Jinping was very disturbed because he didn’t know the balloon was there,” Biden said.
“It’s a huge embarrassment for dictators. Before they know what’s going on. That shouldn’t be where it is. It’s blown off course,” Biden added.
Xi Jinping was re-elected as president for an exceptional third time in March and became general secretary of the Communist Party of China in October, becoming China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
Biden also said China “has real economic difficulties.”
A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said Biden’s remarks were “extremely absurd” and “irresponsible.”
Mao Ning, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Biden’s remarks seriously violated facts and diplomatic protocol, and seriously violated China’s political dignity. China expresses its strong dissatisfaction with this. “They are open political provocations,” she told a news conference.
It’s unclear why Biden said Xi was unaware of the balloon’s whereabouts. Asked whether Xi knew the location of the balloon, Mao reiterated China’s previous explanation that the balloon’s flight over U.S. airspace was unintentional and out of its control caused by the situation.
Biden’s comments came after Blinken and Xi agreed during a meeting on Monday to stabilize the bitter rivalry between Washington and Beijing before it turned into a conflict.
While the US secretary of state’s first visit to China in five years yielded no breakthroughs, the two sides did agree to continue diplomatic engagement, with more visits by US officials to follow in the coming weeks and months.
Biden said late Tuesday that U.S. climate envoy John Kerry may soon visit China.
A day earlier on Monday, Biden said he believed the relationship between the two countries was on the right track and said progress had been made during Blinken’s trip.
Biden said on Tuesday that Xi has been concerned about the so-called quartet of strategic security blocs that include Japan, Australia, India and the United States. The U.S. president said he had previously assured Xi that the U.S. would not try to encircle China with the quartet.
“He called me and told me not to do that because it would get him in trouble,” Biden said.
Later this week, Biden will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and China is expected to be a topic of discussion between the two leaders.